Can you feel your heart pounding in your chest? You may be getting heart palpitations. Goodness Me talks to an expert and looks at what to consider when you feel your heart marching to the beat of a different drum.
Heart palpitations are defined as your heart beating irregularly or rapidly. They range in sensation from simply being aware of your heart beat, to feeling your heart beat at a different pace, more strongly than usual, or even skipping beats.
Heart palpitations are often experienced by young women, according to Epworth cardiologist Dr Iefan Lim.
“While anyone can have heart palpitations, our most common referral is definitely skewed to young women in their late teenage years or early 20s,” Iefan says.
“The sensation is that your heart feels like it is beating slower or faster than normal, or a pounding in your chest. Many people will simply grow out of it, but for others it may be a sign of an arrhythmia or other heart-related issue.”
Iefan says that if you are experiencing heart palpitations regularly, you should consult your GP, who may refer you for further testing or to a cardiologist.
The most common testing to check whether the palpitations are benign – i.e. not related to an underlying heart condition – is an electrocardiogram (ECG).
The ECG measures the electrical activity of the heart, determining if the rhythm is normal or abnormal.
“Some patients may also wear a Holter monitor for 24 hours, which is essentially a portable ECG, to catch any arrhythmia,” Iefan says.
In many cases, there may not be any underlying heart problem, and the cardiologist will recommend ongoing monitoring with some lifestyle changes to avoid stimulants that may be causing the palpitations.
“The most common triggers are caffeine, cigarettes and stress. Occasionally, patients also experience exercise-induced heart palpitations so we advise avoiding strenuous exercise in those patients.”
As with most things, Iefan says moderation is the key.
“Cutting out smoking, having one cup of coffee a day, doing regular exercise and trying to eliminate stress in your life, where possible, can be all that is required to minimise the occurrence of heart palpitations.”
Iefan says that while it may be distressing to experience heart palpitations, most patients will grow out of it.
For those patients with an underlying condition, treatments can include medication such as a beta blocker to stabilise the arrhythmia, or ablation therapy may be required to treat conditions such as atrial fibrillation.
Iefan says if you are experiencing prolonged episodes of arrhythmia over several hours, and associated chest pain and/or blackouts, you should go to the Emergency Department immediately. Those experiencing fleeting symptoms that pass quickly should consult their GP for further advice and referral.
Find an Epworth-accredited specialist at www.epworth.org.au